The most common English exams that are taken by foreign students are IELTS and TOEFL. I’m often asked how you can study for those.
The two exams are pretty similar. They both contain reading, writing, listening and speaking assignments. TOEFL is a little bit more specific because it will test whether your English is good enough to succeed at a university or college. IELTS asks questions that are more general and don’t only fit an academic context.
For both, you need to check first what the requirements are. For that, try a number of example tests.
Websites with Sample Tests
I recommend these:
Practise three TOEFL tests and win an iPod (chosen from people who have a high score!).
There are millions more sites.
Tips for better reading scores:
Read an exam text. Time how long it took you (= how much time you spent on it).
Look up all the words that you didn’t know.
Answer the questions.
Read a new exam text. You must read this text ten seconds faster than the first text you did.
Look up all the words and do the questions.
Read a new text. You must read this text ten seconds faster than the second text.
And so on.
How to train yourself to read and understand quickly:
Have a good look at the title. Try to guess what the text is about.
Read the first line of the text. What do you think the text is about?
Read the last line of the text. Again, try to understand/guess what the text is about.
Read the first paragraph quickly. Now you must know what this text is going to be about.
Try to speed up this process, so that it will take you no more than 30 seconds to check out what a text is about. If your English is not so good, start doing this slowly slowly, and then try to speed up next time when you read a new text.
Then read the rest of the text.
Listen to the same text more than once, to make sure that you understand everything.
If your English isn’t good enough for the practice tests, you’ll need to practise with an easier website, maybe one with transcripts (where you can read and listen at the same time). Or you might have to take English classes.
Look for example letters and emails on Google, and practise writing similar letters.
Or check out old Newsletters about letter writing. Or look in my writing ebook “Improve Your Writing.” If you don’t have that yet, you can download it from Amazon.
Get More Points
In TOEFL and IELTS you’ll get points for:
– clarity (when your text is easy to understand).
– structure (structure of your piece with a beginning, middle and end, and also how you organize your sentences).
– rich vocabulary
– completeness. Have you done exactly what was asked in the question/assignment, and contains your letter/email/essay everything that is necessary?
This is one of the most important parts, because you certainly need to practise for this. You can practise on your own, and maybe record your voice. Try these tips about speech shadowing.
Ideally, you’d want someone to listen to you and give feedback. If your coach is a native English speaker, so much the better. But a friend is better than nothing at all. I think you need at least ten practice talks for this part, even if your English is the top of the top. You need to learn how to time your answers, because you will be getting a specific time slot to talk.
How to get a Higher Score for Speaking
- You will get higher scores if your talk has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning states the problem or subject that you want to talk about, and your opinion about it. The middle explains your arguments. The end summarizes what you’ve talked about and gives your conclusion.
- Your talk needs to be clear and logical (go from A to B to C).
- Your talk needs to be complete and answer the question that you were asked. Summarize the details (= explain the details in short).
- You will get a higher score if you can use rich vocabulary. Don’t always use the same words. Try to find synonyms.
- You will get a higher score if some of your sentences are complex. Try to use connecting words/phrases: but, and, however, moreover, what is more, in addition, on the one hand, on the other hand, finally, another point that I would like to make is.
- You will get a higher score if you can use varied phrases to express your viewpoint. Examples: I think that, I strongly believe that, I see it this way, in my opinion, to my mind, I doubt that, I’m opposed to the view that, I’m convinced that, I feel that…
If you need more tips, or you think that the above aren’t useful for you, let me know. My students usually get 8 or 9 at their exams, which is pretty good, I think..